Community pitches in after thieves swipe tip jar at auto stereo store

A Santa Rosa auto stereo store has set off social media buzz after posting surveillance video of a bold theft. 

The employee tip jar, with about $500 in it, was stolen from Cartunes on Santa Rosa Avenue Monday afternoon. 

Almost immediately, the community began providing valuable clues about the suspects.

"It was a big plastic coke bottle and it stood a few feet tall," described Cartunes owner Michael Meza, showing where Velcro secured the tip jar to the counter. 

But Velcro was no deterrent for the blonde woman who strode in, snatched the bottle and shoved it into a bag. 

She and a brunette accomplice hurried out of the store, and down the street to their car. 

"I was heartbroken, totally heartbroken," said Meza, who set up the jar a few years ago for his staff.

It was especially appreciated by the technicians working behind the scenes who may not have much customer contact.   

"I started out in this business as an installer, so I've always had a heart for the installers," said Meza.

When the stash of cash grew large enough, about six employees would divide it equally.  

"And people love it, you know, they walk up and throw their tip in and we thank them and tell them how much it means to us," said Meza. 

Technicians were shocked at the theft. 

VIDEO: Women take tip jar

"Everybody just came back here and said our tip jar is gone," said installer Fernando Jorge, "and I think karma will come back and get them." 

Before karma, though? Probably the cops. 

Only a few hours after the rip-off, Cartunes posted its surveillance video on Facebook.  

People recognized the two women and provided names, which were confirmed Santa Rosa police who have had past contact with them.

Investigators expect to locate and arrest them soon.  

The women moved quickly.

Once camera angle shows the moment two employees step out to give a customer a quote.

The women slip inside, then rush past the men again moments later.  

"I didn't really notice but my manager said, 'Hey I think they took something,'" said Jorge. "I wondered what would they take, woofers are pretty heavy to lug down the street. But then we came in and our tip jar was gone."   

The video on Facebook has been shared almost 900 times, with 20,000 views.

The word "scumbags" is seen frequently in the comments section. 

People also express surprise that an automotive business has a tip jar, and that it could balloon so big.   
"We usually split it at about 100 bucks a person," explained shop foreman Troy Manu, "but we left it for a year, we wanted to make it grow to get a little more at the end. We were actually going to split it up very soon." 

The staff is philosophical about growing their fund all over again, and Meza, the owner of 24 years, says he will be more vigilant about manning his spot at the counter.  

He has been burglarized before, and has invested in steel security doors and an elaborate camera system.

But the theft of a tip jar feels different- more personal.    

"There's not enough people standing up against these criminals who think they can violate good people and get away with it," said Meza.

For information leading to the thief's identity and an arrest, Meza was offering a free Alpine stereo installation or a free window tinting. 

Now, with so many people chiming in with help, he will have to sort out who was first in line for the reward.